A final practice session takes place in Kyoto on March 31, 2023, ahead of dance performances by traditional Japanese female entertainers called "geiko," alongside their "maiko" apprentices, set to be held from April 1 to 30. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The following is the latest list of selected news summaries by Kyodo News.


FOCUS: Calls grow for drastic steps to address Japan's sliding birthrate

TOKYO - As the Japanese government launched a new agency Saturday to address the declining birthrate, experts are calling for more drastic steps than the measures recently announced by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

The Children and Families Agency was created to oversee child policies, including tackling child abuse and poverty, and comes after the number of babies born in the country in 2022 slid below 800,000, a level reached more than a decade sooner than the government had estimated.


Russia's threat of nuclear weapons use "cowardly": Albania PM

TIRANA - Russia's threat of nuclear weapons use against Ukraine is "cowardly" and "completely insane," Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that his country will deploy tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, its neighbor and ally, is "a cowardly way to threaten and blackmail the West, not just Ukraine," the prime minister, whose country joined NATO in 2009, told Kyodo News in a recent interview.


Japan's imperial agency launches public relations office

TOKYO - Japan's Imperial Household Agency on Saturday established a formal press relations office to revamp its public outreach.

The launch comes after the agency in charge of the family's affairs struggled with scandals and sharp, often slanderous, online reaction over former princess Mako's engagement and 2021 marriage to her university sweetheart Kei Komuro.


Visiting Hayashi to push China to free detained Japan national

TOKYO - Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi is expected to demand the prompt release of a Japanese businessman detained on suspicion of espionage when he meets his Chinese counterpart Qin Gang in Beijing on Sunday.

Hayashi will also touch on China's assertive claims on the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and Russia's invasion of Ukraine, according to Japanese government officials.


Japan launches new agency to deal with children's issues

TOKYO - Japan on Saturday launched a new agency for overseeing child policies as the government under Prime Minister Fumio Kishida struggles to reverse the country's declining birthrate.

The Children and Families Agency, under the direct supervision of the prime minister, will tackle a wide range of challenges, including the perilously low birthrate, child abuse and poverty, as the "control tower" in compiling policies while eliminating sectionalism.


U.S. grants free trade status for Japan under new EV tax credit rules

WASHINGTON - The Treasury Department on Friday released details of tax credit requirements for electric vehicles, including granting Japan a status on par with having a free trade agreement with the United States.

Under the rules to take effect on April 18, although the two countries have no FTA, Japanese EVs will be eligible for U.S. tax incentives even if critical battery minerals are processed in Japan as long as such vehicles are assembled in North America.


Power supply forecast to remain tight for Tokyo this summer

TOKYO - Electricity supply-demand conditions in the Tokyo area are projected to remain tight this summer after power crunch concerns hit resource-poor Japan last year, according to estimates compiled by the government.

The reserve power supply capacity ratio in the metropolitan area in July could drop to 3 percent, the lowest level for maintaining stable supply, if a once-in-a-decade level of extreme heat grips the region served by Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc.


Majority of foreign press harassed in China anti-lockdown rallies

TOKYO - A majority of foreign journalists who responded to a recent survey by a press group in China said they or their Chinese colleagues experienced harassment, obstruction or some form of intimidation when covering protests last year against the now-abandoned "zero-COVID" policy.

In the survey, which drew responses from 102 members of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of China and was released on March 1, 62 percent reported challenges in reporting on the rallies, with respondents saying nearly a dozen local staff who observed the events purely for work purposes were detained or questioned by the police afterward.


California artist draws mural for tsunami-hit Japan city

CRESCENT CITY, California - An 80-year-old artist in a small coastal community in California has completed a mural commemorating his city's relationship with its sister city in Japan that was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011.

The mural will be unveiled on April 14 at the Kamome Festival in Crescent City. The festival celebrates the 10th anniversary of the discovery of a small barnacle-filled boat that washed ashore over two years after the disasters on the other side of the Pacific.


Video: Final practice ahead of traditional dance performances in Kyoto